When the actors’ union strikes over important issues like wages, use of AI and pension funds, it might seem odd that something like self-taped auditions could be a point of contention. But they are.
Most of the actors had to deal with conflicting audition times or had to criss-cross the city in the dystopian zoo of Los Angeles traffic to get from one casting appointment to the next. Many have found themselves frozen in an audition room with the camera on and perhaps only had one chance to get the right shot. And of course, auditioning for some roles was just impossible if you lived out of town.
For all these reasons and many more, recording their own auditions seemed like a great solution for everyone. Casting directors were able to see far more candidates for roles, and from all over the world.
But a kind of arms race has developed, some striking actors say. Viewers are feeling increasing pressure to improve their filmmaking skills in order to be competitive. SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents Hollywood actors and other artists, says that only 5% to 15% of its members make enough ($26,470 per year) to meet the threshold for purchasing health insurance, so all the added costs can prove burdensome and even crippling. More importantly, most actors have no experience with cinematic lighting, framing, or editing.
“In the absence of any industry guidelines, actors are forced to make rules,” says actor and journalist Neal Bledsoe (“Shameless,” “Ugly Betty”).
Audition requests might come with the message that professional aesthetics aren’t expected, he says. “But for artists in a highly competitive industry, that doesn’t mean people are doing whatever they can to get the job. If recording in 4K, using lav mics and LED storm lights gives an advantage, they will. There is no limit to what they will do to get this job. They put the burden of production on their laps,” says Bledsoe.
“The advantage of auditioning in the hall was the forced standardization. Everyone is in front of the same camera. You couldn’t hire a coach to read with you and micromanage your performance for hundreds of dollars.”
Actors report that the technical demands of self-recording have increased. Some are shot from multiple angles, even with stunts. Some actors feel compelled to pay for services that can help, typically for around $40 for half an hour with all the trimmings. One casting agency began offering its room for $130 an hour for this purpose. Actors felt they had to pay prohibitive amounts of money for a chance at a job.
“I had a manager who would require me to film every selfie with my acting coach, which was $100 per audition,” said an actor-writer on a show who asked to remain anonymous. “Sometimes they didn’t like the performance and demanded that I do it again. That’s actually a pretty common question when it comes to a pretty big audition. That’s because I want to do my best in terms of performance—but I pay hundreds of dollars for interviews.”
The actress says she’s invested hundreds of dollars in an at-home setup, but has also had to shoot while on vacation – only to be scolded for the sub-par quality. A representative refused to submit her self-adhesive tape because her background was wrinkled. “There’s definitely an expectation that it’s going to be studio quality,” she says. “There’s a promise that you’ll earn everything back because one day you’ll get a regular role on the show. But as we can see, even these people cannot pay their bills.”
The union recognizes that self-tapes have become indispensable and in many cases actively supports them. Chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told IndieWire that self-recording “can be a real benefit for our members in terms of access, accessibility and opportunities for underrepresented groups” but that regulations are needed to prevent “abusive practices”.
SAG-AFTRA posted a information chart on July 17 on his website to explain his positions, including on “casting and self-taped auditions.” The union opposes charging for the use of online casting platforms: “Artists should not be required to pay to access employment opportunities, nor should they be given preferential treatment in exchange for fees from a casting platform.” The table accused the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers of “shivering” responsibility for the use of these platforms and not offering an alternative or enforcement of rules that would prohibit “many artists from paying to access jobs “.
The union says it wants to “reduce some of the burden and costs placed on members by casting,” such as setting a “minimum turnaround time … excluding weekends and holidays,” requiring notification when “a role has already been cast when self-recorded auditions are requested” (saving actors the time, energy, and often money they must spend trying out for a job that’s already filled), and limiting the number of pages that can be used for a pre selection must be rotated in the first round.
The union says AMPTP countered by agreeing in principle to some requests, but only on the “honor system” with no enforcement mechanism in place. The union also states that AMPTP “has refused to exclude weekends and holidays” from processing time, “has refused to disclose when a quote is available…” [requiring] Ask cast members to contact production and ask if a role is already cast. “They will only try to answer” and “replies with an unacceptable number of pages.”
Actor and writer Louis Rinaldi (“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” “AFB”) has encountered a number of obstacles, some of them dangerous, in recording himself.
“The role was like ‘Sweat Mopper’ — it was for something to do with basketball,” he says of an audition that required a pratfall. “It contained extensive notes on how physical we should appear. They wanted more than one shot. They wanted the full fall in one shot, so I couldn’t edit it to fall safely on the floor. My resume doesn’t say I’m a stunt coordinator or anything. They wanted me to hold a real broom and they wanted to see the floor—it couldn’t be carpet—so they could see my footwork. They wanted a pratfall, then a barrel roll and a landing on all fours, “in a cool style if you can.” I’m just trying to survive — and then on all fours wipe the floor.”
For a film, Rinaldi’s agent received a direct request to record some intimate scenes himself.
“They asked me if I was okay with being naked on film, but also on the tape if I would show as much nudity as I was comfortable with. They said, “It’s up to you, but we want an actor who is very comfortable showing nudity.” We would specifically prefer or require actors to do so.” All of this was broadcast by an agent. I felt uncomfortable. I felt like that wasn’t allowed. Who gets this?”
Rinaldi declined to undress for the video. But he says requests for extremely short turnaround times — “even less than two hours,” he says — are common.
“I was asked to turn the tapes over within an hour: ‘If you can get them in early, that would be best.’ So the higher the probability that it will be seen. It feels like there is no respect for my life or my livelihood if I don’t submit selfie videos. When it comes to multiple scenes and a dance, “singing an original song” — that takes a lot of effort, sitting down with music, hiring an accompanist, learning choreography — anything under 24 hours feels disrespectful. They’ll write it in capital letters: “Make it as soon as possible.” ”
AMPTP tentatively agreed to the union’s contractual requirements for “restrictions on technical requirements”, “slate requirements” (how actors present themselves in front of the camera), no requirement for nudity or stunts in self-recording, providing music and choreography for dancers rather than requiring them to create their own choreography, and safekeeping of self-taped auditions.
A key demand from the actors’ union was that “performers must be given the opportunity to audition in person or virtually if they wish, rather than recording themselves.” The studios countered, offering that a first-come, first-served window would be provided, but that option “would lapse at the end of the three-year contract term.”
“No one is talking about getting rid of self-adhesive tape. They’re just saying that if you’re one of the artists who benefit from being there in person, you have that opportunity,” says Bledsoe. “When it comes to access and equal access, there are some actors – especially older actors – who aren’t as comfortable with the technology.”
Bledsoe says he prefers human interaction and the opportunity to ask questions about tone, style and tempo.
“How often have I walked into a room late and have the CD in my hand [casting director] Tell me specifically, “A lot of people make this mistake — maybe you do.” It’s priceless,” he says. “Casting this medium from afar is at odds with the human experience that acting enacts.”
The AMPTP declined a request for an interview from the Times, but issued a statement: “AMPTP has compromised or fulfilled nearly all of the union’s demands on the cast, including self-recording guard rails (limiting pages of script material, technical requirements, response time, requested information, and specific requests for dancers and stunt performers), options for virtual and in-person auditions, payment for waiting time in virtual auditions, and accommodations for artists with disabilities.”
For self-adhesive basics, watch the video below, which includes technical information and a breakdown of actual costs.
Want to audition but afraid of having to tape yourself? Fear not, The Times is here with the experts to tell us what you’re doing wrong (and right) in your self-taped auditions!